Everyone else was a few dozen yards away, small against the lake on a breezy June day, and my footprints were the only ones on this stretch of beach. I picked up a stick and began to write in the wet sand, some pictures, but mostly words, thoughts, ideas.
It was time to go, and I thought about taking out my phone and snapping a picture. “Just to remember it by” I’d say…and then later I’d post it on Facebook, I knew I would. And I would caption it and add it to a blog post and feel good about myself when people liked it and acknowledged how deep and artsy I am.
Instead, I kept my phone in my pocket and walk away. If you went back to the lake today, the words would be gone. And I won’t tell you what they are.
Why? Because of something my Bible professor told me over coffee three years ago. I had asked him what to do about the fact that I had a hard time turning off my inner writer, that I saw every conversation or experience as material for a devotional or blog post instead of having value in itself.
He said a mentor of his had taught him this unusual practice: take a day of prayer and Bible study. Outline a sermon, write a song, journal, do whatever it is you often do in times of seeking God.
Then, don’t share any of it with anyone. Not one word, not one idea—kind of like fasting. All of it is dedicated to God alone. Not as a regular practice, of course, just as a discipline, once a year or so.
I kind of smiled and nodded, but everything in me said that was a bad idea. I am particularly talented at casting my flaws in a noble light, so I decided I wouldn’t try this because spiritual gifts are meant to build up the church, not build up just me.
But now, a few years later, I know the problem, because I see it in myself so often that it’s scary. I think there’s value in leaving some truth unspoken, between yourself and God, because otherwise you might idolize your own wisdom.
God created me to love deep and wide, to write and think and scatter-shoot joy and random theological questions at the poor, unsuspecting people around me.
But somewhere along the line, I became convinced that anything I learn about God is only, or at least mostly, for passing on to others. That I am first of all a writer and a storyteller and an amateur theologian and only secondarily a child of God.
If those priorities seem wrong to you, that’s because they are. That day at the lake, I had to ask myself, Do I believe my life with God is a personal relationship and not a public performance? Do I really?
I learned some things, that day. It was just a half hour, to pray words that no one would hear so they couldn’t be for show. To think thoughts that won’t ever make it into a blog post, because they are a little too close to my heart. To create something just for the love of it, even if it was just words and pictures in the sand that were wiped out with the next rain.
I realized what I hadn’t before. When you have made an idol of connection and approval, sometimes letting your art go unwitnessed is worship. Sometimes when you talk too much, silence is worship.
Blank pages, solitary lessons, unfinished thoughts, unanswered questions…these things can be for the glory of God too. There are times when my silence is more beautiful to God than my praise, because it is a greater sacrifice.
And I think I need to do be silent more often.
That is hard for me, friends. Sometimes I am so afraid I will die with words unspoken. My sharpest regrets are a collection of if onlys, the times I should have said and didn’t. I’ve made many a mistake by impulsively sending a text or email because I wanted so badly not to be honest, not really, but to be heard. I have valued what I learn about God mostly because of what I can trade that knowledge for: the applause and admiration of others.
That’s a really bad trade.
Maybe you know what that feels like. It’s what chains you to the refresh button on Facebook, seeing how many people validated your photo or clever comment with a click of approval. It’s the rush of temporary happiness when you sing at church and hit all the right notes, your mind so focused on sounding good that your mouth is the only part of you praising Jesus. It’s the frustration that comes when no one understands how you feel except God—and that doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
Whatever it feels like for you, it doesn’t feel like freedom. It can’t. It’s not how we were meant to live.
So write some words in the sand and let them be washed away. Create something to give to God alone, and give it with everything you have, even the pieces of your heart you usually save for the approval of others.